Whitespace: Five generations. One workplace: Welcome to the future.
Issue 54: October 2009
A new generation is on its way to a workplace near you. In the next few years Generation Z will be fronting up to work alongside Traditionalists, Boomers, Xs and Ys in a trend that offers both challenges and opportunities for managers.
To prepare you for the onslaught, this month's Whitespace looks at three key developments that will emerge as the five generation workplace becomes a reality.
The external knowledge bank
Advances in digital technology aren't just shrinking the world, they're also diminishing the memories of younger generations.
But thanks to the Internet, workers now only need to retain around 10 per cent of work related knowledge to perform well. The rest is accessed through omnipresent knowledge banks from intranets to Facebook – a second nature habit that's been readily embraced by the X and Ys.
In a finding that backs this point, a recent Microsoft study suggests Australians are increasingly using mobile phones as memory banks. The study found just 50 per cent of Australians surveyed know their own office phone number.
Who's a team player?
After studying the behaviours of successive generations, researchers Strauss and Howe have determined that each age-based social grouping consists of either predominantly team players or individualists.
According to Brazen Careerist, the Boomers were team players, Gen X individualists. The next in line, the Ys, have shown themselves to be team focused, which suggests the Zs will be solo players.
Rather than being a hindrance to collaboration, this kind of behavioural difference suggests natural synergies between alternating generations as well as the status quo breaking benefits of throwing individualists into the mix.
While a large number of Traditionalists and Boomers certainly don't mind a talkfest (some actually crave them), more tech-savvy groups like the Xs and Ys want their information delivered in bite sized pieces.
So how do you support one group's desire for long-form communication and at the same time embrace instant messaging, remote work or short and sharp teleconferences?
Certainly it's a difficult balancing act. But one that can be achieved by understanding that when faced with plethora of communication channel choices, face-to-face is king for all demographics – a point made by Deloitte research on generational communication.
Generalisations about generations
Oscar Wilde might have quipped that generalisations are odious. However, in the case of generational groupings a growing body of research suggests we are shaped collectively by our formative years.
The Traditionalists and Boomers have had a real and lasting impact on the workplace; these environments will soon be remodeled by the Ys in their own tech-savvy, transient image. But the real surprise package could be today's hyper-connected teens and tweens.
After being exposed to recession, terrorism and on-demand media as well as being armed with a passion for sustainability their input will make for fascinating five generation water cooler conversations in the near future.
Breaking it down
Whitespace is published monthly by the Australian Institute of Management - Qld & NT. Sign up to have a copy sent direct to your mailbox.